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May 4, 2013

How safe has the Afghan war left us?

(Continued)

These attacks exploit the U.S. strategy’s main weakness: that any cross-border coordination must rely on Pakistan’s army handling the eastern side. President Barack Obama, controversially, has chosen instead to place his trust in drone aircraft.

In terms of killing the enemy, Obama’s drone strikes have yielded more (and higher-ranking) scalps than Pakistan’s forces ever could. But whether that’s worth the virulent backlash these hits have provoked remains to be seen.

This anger over U.S. drones has spread to Pakistan’s army officer corps, whose numerous defections to al-Qaida were documented by Asia Times reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad in his must-read 2011 book Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban.* As the leftover anti-Soviet mujahideen of the 1980s fade away, this infusion of new blood has come at the perfect time for al-Qaida.

Among the defectors were Maj. (ret.) Haroon Ashiq and his brother, Capt. Khurram Ashiq, both Pakistani special forces commanders. Shahzad credited Haroon with retraining and rearming Islamic fighters along the frontier. He reportedly used his contacts to procure for them AK-47 silencers, night-vision goggles and even a guerrilla-made mortar small enough to fit in a luggage bag.

Khurram was killed in 2007 by Canadian forces in Afghanistan. Haroon was later acquitted on charges of plotting the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai — after witnesses reportedly withdrew their testimony fearing reprisal.

One week before those attacks, Major Ashiq tracked down retired Maj. Gen. Ameer Faisal Alavi, then working for a telecommunications company in Islamabad. Ashiq, with two accomplices, killed Alavi with his army revolver. The killing of Alavi, who in 2004 had led Pakistan’s first anti-Taliban operation along the frontier, by an ex-comrade sent a clear message about the consequences of working with NATO.

Worse yet is the resistance from Pakistani clerics such as Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who said in 2004 that cooperating with NATO is un-Islamic, and that no cleric should perform funeral services for Pakistani soldiers killed in such operations.

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